The Music Outreach Principle

The Music Outreach Principle is an extremely simple social philosophy of music making. It draws on the philosophies of Dr John Diamond of the Institute of Music and Health, New York, encompassing a modern interpretation of the idea that sharing music making promotes general well-being as well as skill development. As the name implies, the Music Outreach Principle involves making music with the intent of altruistically reaching out to others. In essence, individuals involved are encouraged to think: ‘I make music in order that others will make music, for the benefit of all’. This intent is exercised not just from ‘teacher’ to ‘student’ but is passed on from individual to individual so that all music making ‘reaches out’ in an on-going cycle. The aim of the Music Outreach Principle is to allow all participants to be both givers and receivers of music through helping others to engage in music making. All participants become facilitators in shared music making. Since the Music Outreach Principle is not focused or reliant on the musical skills of the music makers, there is no minimum musical skill requirement. Everybody is already musically qualified to engage in outreach activities. It is through the on-going involvement in practical music making that musical skills are developed as a natural and stress-free outcome of joyful engagement.

Music should be a present to other people. If they at this early age can think of the idea of giving, of thinking of other people, then their lives will be different. (Dr John Diamond, interviewed about the MEP approach in 2006)

The Music Outreach Principle considers the social outward-directed nature of music making to be its most important characteristic. Music makers reach out to others both to initiate music making behaviour in those others but also to encourage the others to reach out themselves in order to pass on the impetus to both make music and encourage others to do likewise. Ever music maker becomes a facilitator of the music making of others. The sentence used to describe this process, which can be understood by people of all ages is: ‘I make music in order that you will make music, for the mutual benefit of all.’

The Music Outreach Principle is certainly built around the idea of participation, as opposed to listening but does not preclude listening. It certainly focuses on the outward, altruistic sharing of music but is not limited to that domain. It does not necessarily encompass a full curriculum, or provide wide ranging musical examples in every situation, although it certainly can. While it provides a non-musical reason for musical engagement, it does not do so in the utilitarian sense (for example, in order to create civic-mindedness) although it has demonstrated a positive impact on some ‘at-risk’ students. It is not performance- or exhibition-based although it can certainly be used to create impressive performance-like events.

The Music Outreach Principle taps into the social underpinnings of music making as a means of human bonding, but gives it a modern interpretation that offers a non-musical excuse to engage based on the will to help others, combining the benefits of music making (Andrews et al, 2010) with the benefits of helping others (Ornstein & Sobell, 1999). It caters for individual needs and wants within a group model that also removes discrimination based on skill, age, ability, or disability. Rather than being inclusiveness, its very nature precludes any form of exclusivity.

Teachers respond particularly well to the Music Outreach Principle, possibly because they have entered into the teaching profession with an aspiration to help others. To suggest to a teacher that their engagement with music making, through the Music Outreach Principle, may help the children they teach avoid the very fear the teacher harbours in relation to singing, is a strong motivating factor.

At the same time, both children and other adults working with a teacher are motivated to help in return since the Music Outreach Principle is multi-directional: it does not flow from teacher to student, or from musical expert to novice. It combines two very human qualities: the desire to make music and the desire to help others. The ‘help’ includes, but is not limited to, helping others to make music. The music itself may offer ‘help’ of various sorts, but that help is not defined precisely. Just as the impetus to make music is vested in each individual and cannot be enforced, the help given, and the effect of that help, is for each individual to decide for him/herself. Each individual looks to his/her intent and allows events to unfold from that perspective.

Andrews, J., Kearns, R. A., Kingsbury, P., Carr, E. R. (2010). Cool Aid? Health, wellbeing and place in the work of Bono and U2. Health and Place. Doi: 10.1016/j.healthplace.2010.09.008
Ornstein, R, & Sobell, D. (1989). Healthy Pleasures (First ed.). Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.